The football world still awaits Roger Goodell’s decision on the appeal of Tom Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension, but Brady and those close to him are making it fairly clear that the quarterback doesn’t intend to go down without a fight.
ABC News reported that Brady intends to file a lawsuit against the NFL and seek an injunction to stay the suspension unless it is completely wiped out. Sources close to Brady have expressed a similar sentiment and said that the ABC News report is generally accurate.
For anyone following this saga, that should hardly come as a surprise.
“Well, didn’t expect, ‘We’ll be good with whatever Rog decides,’ ” quipped Andrew Brandt, the former Packers vice president who now is with ESPN.
But this is a theoretical threat, because we still don’t know the outcome of the appeal. When push comes to shove, will Brady really be willing to go to court to clear his name? The answer isn’t known, as Brady has remained quiet throughout.
For Brady’s sake, I hope he has a trusted friend or adviser who is telling him what he needs to hear, not necessarily what he wants to hear.
There are a lot of people connected to Brady who have something at stake, too. And they will likely be in his ear, giving him advice on how to proceed.
But whom can Brady really trust? The people surrounding Brady have different motivations for wanting him to go to court.
From a legal perspective, going to court carries little risk for Brady. A lawsuit could delay the process so long that Brady ends up playing most, if not all, of the 2015 season. And a lawsuit would only attack the NFL’s disciplinary and appeals procedures, not the actual content of the Wells Report or any of the science involved, so Brady likely wouldn’t have to give up his cellphone, which he protected dearly during the initial investigation.
“He would not need to share evidence — such as text messages and e-mails — and any sworn statements by Brady would likely replicate what he has already said,” said Michael McCann, a sports law professor at the University of New Hampshire.
But a lawsuit does carry a decent amount of risk for Brady and the Patriots in one sense — namely, that he could lose in court and be forced to serve the suspension later in the 2015 season when the Patriots are fighting for playoff positioning, instead of early in September.
And while Brady is seeking to exonerate himself and clear his name, losing in court could have the opposite effect.
“He could go to court and lose, which critics of Brady and the Patriots would say proves he did something wrong,” McCann said. “He could also succeed in getting the suspension lifted by a judge, but the NFL could appeal and, if successful, have the suspension restored — potentially later in the season.”
The NFL Players Association is gung-ho about suing the league, as it should be. But for the union, this is bigger than seeking exoneration for Brady. This is really about the union trying to clobber Goodell’s disciplinary powers and set new precedent with the NFL’s appeals process. NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith wants to gain through litigation what he couldn’t at the negotiating table in 2011. Of course he’s going to push Brady to take this matter to court.
The NFLPA’s attorneys also have every incentive to go to court, and outside attorney Jeffrey Kessler pretty much has nothing to lose by taking this all the way. If he loses, well, it was still worth a shot. And, of course, Kessler and the attorneys get paid, win or lose. “Billable hours” has become one of the more popular phrases in the NFL over the past year.
Brady also must be a little wary of his confidants with the Patriots, as they have much at stake in the appeal, as well. If Brady’s suspension is bumped down to one or two games, Bill Belichick might encourage Brady to simply take his lumps, serve the suspension early in the season, and get it over with.
It’s the path of least resistance for the team, which would get closure on the matter early in the regular season. Belichick also would be able to spend all five weeks of training camp preparing Jimmy Garoppolo to play a couple of games early in the season, instead of having uncertainty hovering over the team the entire season.
But that’s what’s best for Belichick and the team. It might not be what’s best for Brady if he is hellbent on clearing his name.
And owner Robert Kraft might have the most fascinating and conflicting emotions of anyone in Deflategate. If he tells Brady to take this all the way in court, how can Brady be sure that Kraft’s advice isn’t based on Kraft’s desire to exonerate the Patriots and clear the team’s legacy? Kraft hates nothing more than having the taint of cheating attached to his Super Bowl championships.
And if Kraft tells Brady to simply take a reduced suspension, how can Brady be sure his motivations are genuine? Kraft is a high-ranking NFL owner, of course, and remains close with Goodell (the two were hanging out and, presumably, bargaining the suspension in Sun Valley, Idaho, two weeks ago). Kraft might be doing the bidding of the NFL office, encouraging Brady not to sue so as not to set bad precedent for the owners and league office.
Even those closest to Brady — his agent, father, other close friends — have something at stake. Are they gung-ho about going to court because it’s best for Brady, or because they simply want his name cleared?
Realistically, only one person can truly decide what’s best for Tom Brady — the man himself. Hopefully, he understands that.
Goodell has put thought into it
Roger Goodell continues to take heat from media and fans for his heavy-handed and seemingly arbitrary disciplinary process. This time, he’s getting it from critics over the reduction of Greg Hardy’s suspension from 10 games to four by arbitrator Harold Henderson, a former league executive.
How could Goodell get it so wrong yet again?
Well, the way it’s been explained to me, Goodell kind of, somewhat knows what he’s doing. It’s part of his plan to make sure he doesn’t repeat the mistakes of last year.
Go back to last September and the Ray Rice situation. Why did Goodell catch so much heat? Because he underpunished Rice with a paltry two-game suspension for domestic violence. And he has made sure not to repeat that mistake.
After the Rice fiasco, Goodell found a way, via the commissioner’s exempt list, to keep Adrian Peterson and Hardy off the field for the 2014 season. Then he added an indefinite suspension for Peterson and a 10-game suspension for Hardy. Goodell knew they would be reduced or overturned — and they have been — but with an arbitrator’s name attached to it, not Goodell’s.
And even though Hardy’s suspension was cut by 60 percent, he will still serve a four-game suspension to start 2015, which is two games more than he would have served under the old personal conduct policy, when he committed his infraction.
Tom Brady’s four-game suspension, which seems far too harsh given the lack of evidence found by Ted Wells, falls under the same umbrella (although Goodell will have his name attached to this appeal). Goodell and the NFL now believe it’s better to overpunish and negotiate the penalty down, instead of going too light to begin with.
Goodell was a national punchline last year and put his job in jeopardy with the 32 owners by underpunishing Rice. But he’ll never get in trouble with the owners by being too harsh.
Titans, Mariota off to rough start
The Titans haven’t made the playoffs in six seasons, are coming off a 2-14 campaign, and aren’t exactly acting like a championship organization with their handling of Marcus Mariota.
Mariota, the No. 2 overall draft pick, remains the only first-rounder unsigned (and one of three overall) because he and the Titans are caught up on the issue of “offset language.” The Titans are adamant about having offset language in Mariota’s contract — if Mariota is cut before his four-year contract is up and signs with another team, offset language would prevent him from collecting his entire salary from the Titans and then double-dipping with his new team. Mariota will eventually sign a four-year deal worth more than $24 million.
“We’ve always had offset language in our player contracts. It’s nothing new,” interim CEO Steve Underwood said last week. “I think it is important where a high first-round draft pick is concerned, because it’s the precedent. Everything that we do is precedential for the next round of contracts.
“So keeping the offset in place is something we want to be able to do ... and the minute you back away from the contract principle then you no longer are able to assert it.”
That’s fine, but this is a terrible way to begin your relationship with your new franchise player. It creates resentment between player and team, and by focusing on a worst-case scenario gives the impression that the Titans aren’t sold on Mariota. Meanwhile, the Jaguars excluded offset language in the contract of No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, even after he tore his ACL this summer.
If Mariota is a bust, the Titans have much bigger problems than saving a few million dollars because of offset language. Their focus should be on selling their new franchise quarterback to the fan base and supporting him with better coaching and talent.
League better at picking its spots
The NFL receives plenty of criticism from media and fans for the “Friday news dump” — waiting until late on a Friday or the day before a national holiday to release bad or major news with the hopes of minimizing its impact on the news cycle.
But the NFL has become sensitive to that criticism over the past year, and to its credit, has mostly shied away from that tactic.
|Ray Rice two-game suspension||Thursday, July 24, 2014||1:12 p.m.|
|Rice indefinite suspension||Monday, Sept. 8, 2014||2:41 p.m.|
|Adrian Peterson suspension||Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014||8:41 a.m.|
|Peterson reinstated||Thursday, April 16, 2015||2:03 p.m.|
|Wells Report on Deflategate||Wednesday, May 6, 2015||1:02 p.m.|
|Tom Brady four-game suspension||Monday, May 11, 2015||5:31 p.m.|
|Antonio Gates PED suspension||Thursday, July 2, 2015||4 p.m.|
|Greg Hardy suspension reduction||Friday, July 10, 2015||2:20 p.m.|
Kromer is no day at the beach
Two thoughts on the arrest of Bills offensive line coach Aaron Kromer for allegedly punching a minor during a dispute on a Florida Panhandle beach:
This is the guy the Bills hired to keep Richie Incognito in check? Kromer seems like an emotional hothead, and not just because of this arrest. Kromer also trashed Jay Cutler to the media behind Cutler’s back last year as the Bears’ offensive coordinator and was forced to apologize to the team. He’s lucky to have a job in the NFL, and might not have one much longer.
If Kromer does keep his job, he might fit in well with Rex Ryan. In 2002, when Ryan was the Ravens’ defensive line coach, he was charged with misdemeanor assault after being accused of punching a neighbor in the face when Ryan came to his house to challenge him after their sons got in a fight. The charge was eventually dropped and a civil suit was settled outside of court.
Goal is to avoid Hardy comparison
Now that Hardy’s suspension for domestic violence has been knocked down to four games, I can’t imagine that Roger Goodell will keep Brady’s suspension for taking a little air out of the football (allegedly) at four games, as well. The NFL has become very sensitive to those types of comparisons after the fiasco of last fall, when Rice was given a mere two games for hitting his then-girlfriend, while Josh Gordon was given a yearlong suspension for the relatively harmless crime of smoking marijuana.
That’s why Rice’s suspension was later increased to indefinite (though it was ultimately rescinded by an arbitrator), and it’s why the NFL subsequently strengthened/clarified its policies on domestic violence while softening the penalties for marijuana last fall.
The last thing Goodell wants to do is invite a new round of criticism from fans and domestic violence advocacy organizations. Goodell has dug in so deep on Deflategate that he can’t possibly vacate Brady’s entire suspension, but there’s no way he can keep it at four games and equate Brady with Hardy, either. A reduction to two games, or possibly one game plus a one-game fine, seems to be the likeliest scenario.
The NFL Network commenced its annual ranking the top 100 players in the league earlier this month, with J.J. Watt taking home the No. 1 spot and Brady ranking No. 3 (behind Aaron Rodgers) in a vote of players. For what it’s worth, here’s how we rank the top 10 players in the NFL: Rodgers, Watt, Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Joe Thomas, Justin Houston, Tyron Smith, Dez Bryant, Cameron Wake, Richard Sherman. Just missed the cut: Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Sheldon Richardson, Ndamukong Suh, Demaryius Thomas . . . Now that Dan Connolly has retired, it increases the likelihood of one of the Patriots’ rookie guards earning a starting spot this year. The money here is on Tre Jackson, the Florida State product who is more pro-ready than Shaq Mason and has an instant rapport with center Bryan Stork, Jackson’s college teammate. Mason has great athleticism and is a mauler in the run game, but after playing in the triple-option attack at Georgia Tech likely needs time to develop his pass-blocking skills . . . Interesting Twitter comment from former Eagles president and Browns CEO Joe Banner on the massive deals signed by Bryant and Demaryius Thomas on Wednesday (both signed for five years and $70 million, with $43 million-$45 million guaranteed): “Teams realize how much [salary] cap is about to go up. Time is on players’ side. Today’s deals will look cheap soon.”
Ravens and Saints rookies will be the first players to report to training camp, with their Wednesday start date just 51 days before the 2015 NFL season opener. Here are the locations, reporting dates, and first exhibition games for all 32 teams:
|Bengals||Cincinnati||July 27||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. NYG|
|Bills||Pittsford, N.Y.||July 30||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. CAR|
|Broncos||Englewood, Colo.||July 27||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. SEA|
|Browns||Berea, Ohio||July 22||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. WAS|
|Charters||San Diego||July 29||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. DAL|
|Chiefs||St. Joseph, Mo.||July 28||July 31||Aug. 15 vs. ARI|
|Colts||Anderson, Ind.||Aug. 1||Aug. 1||Aug. 16 vs. PHI|
|Dolphins||Davie, Fla.||July 29||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. CHI|
|Jaguars||Jacksonville||July 27||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. PIT|
|Jets||Florham Park, N.J.||July 29||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. DET|
|Patriots||Foxborough||July 23||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. GB|
|Raiders||Napa, Calif.||July 26||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. STL|
|Ravens||Owings Mills, Md.||July 22||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. NO|
|Steelers||Latrobe, Pa.||July 25||July 25||Aug. 9 vs. MIN|
|Texans||Houston||July 26||July 31||Aug. 15 vs. SF|
|Titans||Nashville||July 30||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. ATL|
|Bears||Bourbonnais, Ill.||July 29||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. MIA|
|Buccaneers||Tampa||July 27||July 31||Aug. 15 vs. MIN|
|Cardinals||Glendale, Ariz.||July 28||July 31||Aug. 15 vs. KC|
|Cowboys||Oxnard, Calif.||July 29||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. SD|
|Eagles||Philadelphia||Aug. 1||Aug. 1||Aug. 16 vs. IND|
|Falcons||Flowery Branch, Ga.||July 30||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. TEN|
|49ers||Santa Clara, Calif.||July 27||July 31||Aug. 15 vs. HOU|
|Giants||East Rutherford, N.J.||July 30||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. CIN|
|Lions||Allen Park, Mich.||July 28||Aug. 2||Aug. 13 vs. NYJ|
|Packers||De Pere, Wis.||July 29||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. NE|
|Panthers||Spartanburg, S.C.||July 30||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. BUF|
|Rams||Earth City, Mo.||July 27||July 31||Aug. 14 vs. OAK|
|Redskins||Richmond||July 29||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. CLE|
|Saints||White Sulphur Springs, W.Va.||July 22||July 29||Aug. 13 vs. BAL|
|Seahawks||Renton, Wash.||July 30||July 30||Aug. 14 vs. DEN|
|Vikings||Mankato, Minn.||July 25||July 25||Aug. 9 vs. PIT|
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.